Friday, May 6, 2016

Planning Students for Equity and Inclusion

PSEI Board: Left to right - Keaton Wetzel,
Hannah Bahnmiller, Stephen Wiley & Minxuan Zou
It’s getting on that frenetic time in the semester when I’m at once looking forward to what’s next and back at what’s been, while trying not to lose track of what still needs to be done. I am on the board of Planning Students for Equity and Inclusion, and, as part of my current stock-taking, I’ve been considering how we as a community are doing with regard to the organization’s core concerns and how we as a board have contributed.

First, some background on who we are for those who may not be familiar with our organization. On this year’s board are Hannah Bahnmiller, Keaton Wetzel, Minxuan Zou, and me, Stephen Wiley. After we took over in February and discussed with the previous board, we decided to change the organization’s name to Planning Students for Equity and Inclusion from Planning Students for Diversity. We believe our new name better reflects the focus of the organization, and more clearly broadcasts our mission.

Planning Students for Equity and Inclusion (PSEI) seeks to engage with the Cornell planning community on issues related to social justice and equity as well as ensure that CRP is a welcoming and inclusive place to study.

We work to deepen students’ conception of social justice by highlighting and stoking discussion of policies that entrench unequal life outcomes; by deconstructing narratives of racism, sexism, classism, nativism, and heteronormativity; and by foregrounding creative and equitable solutions.

We assist our department in attracting and yielding planning students that are traditionally underrepresented in the field and critical to successfully tackling social inequity. Additionally, it is our mission to ensure that students from every background feel safe, supported, and valued in our department.

In my view, this has been an exceptional semester of extra-curricular programming related to the issues central to our mission. That is due in large part to the committed, coordinated efforts of students throughout the department, and especially the work of former PSEI board member Alia Fierro, who organized many of these events to tremendous success. PSEI and OCP were more than thrilled to pitch in along the way. These events included a well-curated, trio of speakers that addressed a range of equity and inclusion topics, as well as the department’s first-ever event aimed at informing and attracting undergraduates identifying as underrepresented minorities to the planning field. Both the series and the event were expertly-executed and very well-attended.

For our part, PSEI contributed two #RealTalk events in the past two months, each featuring thoughtful discussion on obstacles facing effective equity planning and potential strategies for overcoming those blocks. The second of these events was facilitated by Professor Jamila Michener of Cornell’s Government Department — my personal semester highlight. Professor Michener, who studies racial inequality and urban poverty, greatly enriched our on-going conversations about the ways in which government fails to engage and respond to poor communities, often communities of color, and what planners can do about it. We hope to have her back next semester to continue the discussion.

So there’s my look back. I have to say, things went well, and it was a true group effort. As for what’s next, PSEI is energized by Alia’s example, and thanks in large part to the support from the other members of last year’s board, Jubek and Beth, we are in a great position to build on the momentum of this semester’s success. That will mean taking on more of the organizational tasks, which we are all very eager to do. Our last board meeting will be next week, after which we plan to solicit the CRP community for feedback and suggestions going into next year. Don’t worry students, it will be after exams. So stay focused, but also stay tuned.

Article and Photo Credit: Stephen Wiley, MRP '17